An entrepreneur, a technology journalist, a business media presenter, a corporate communications leader and more – all rolled into one, Tuhina Pandey, Communications lead in IBM India and South Asia, will be sharing her journey of success with Poonam Sinha.
1 How do you see women entrepreneurs in the unprecedented situation created by COVID-19. Also, what role can technology play to help them move ahead?
T.P – I perceive the present situation as a very interesting one; there are plenty opportunities waiting to be leveraged. We are living in a digitally flat world where space and time do not matter anymore – the digital divide has been bridged. Technology is a big enabler of inclusion and diversity and businesses can be built out in many sectors. This is where I see the opportunity. According to a recent report, hiring of women has increased by 7% in the COVID-19 period. This itself proves how beneficial this period has been for women. Therefore COVID-19 has just reiterated the fact that in this digital world, women have a bigger role to play and greater opportunities to tap in. Now is the time when the power of technology should be harnessed in order to ride towards a better tomorrow.
2. What does the post-COVID world look like to you, especially for working women?
T.P. – As I said, COVID19 has opened many doors; there are numerous opportunities but you need to be relevant and digitally equipped. Having a ‘digital first’ attitude will stand you in good stead. If you are passionate and confident about rolling out your business model, are prepared to juggle and balance work and home responsibilities, NOW is the time to take the plunge! The time is right for women to move ahead as the boundaries between work-from-home and work-for-home have been shattered – you can do so much together. Today, in the post-COVID world, realities have changed and so have are priorities; healthcare, mental well-being, re-skilling/up-skilling have become imperative. Again, this shift in human behaviour has created many opportunities for all. Given the digital landscape, women can progress in leaps and bounds and build business models to cater to the new-found needs of the society.
3. What do you think working women should consider while building their own brand?
T.P. – Purpose is key! One needs to be clear about what is her objective; what does she aim to achieve through her business model. Knowing self-substance and value and reflecting the same in your work is essential. Also, one should be aware of the image of herself, her brand, which she wishes to create for her stakeholder/ clients to perceive. Clarity along these lines should be of utmost priority before she can come to think of ‘how’ to build her brand! Again, once the brand has been established with a certain promise, it is imperative that you do fulfil the brand promise; any gaps between your promise and deliverance will mar your brand image. It is advisable that you should choose your sector of work as you cannot be omnipresent. Less is more and thus, intelligent choices regarding ‘where’ and ‘who’ do you wish to engage in business with, will prove beneficial for you. Furthermore, inspire others, who have experienced your brand, its promise and delivery, to speak for you – let your work do the talking. It is a matter of pride when your clients/stakeholders vouch for your authenticity and credibility. So, I think considering these factors and working in accordance with them, will help you to anchor your brand in solid grounds.
4. What advise will you dispense for working women – what are the top three skills that will matter in the decade ahead?
T.P. – Digital acceleration in our nation had begun a long time ago but the reality of today is that we are witnessing a digital revolution at an extremely high pace! Due to this there has been exponential growth. So having a ‘digital first’ attitude is a must; but this attitude has to enable you to see things more concretely; for example you should be able to identify what are the digital work models that can work, how can you build a digital workforce, how can you use technology which will support your business model, what are your digital skills – marketing, communications, content strategy, what are your digital ethics – all these need to be considered in depth if you want a sustainable business model today. Also, being agile is crucial, as speed can be your differentiator. With the changing lifestyles, the needs of the society and economy are changing – what was relevant yesterday may not be so today. Further, you must ‘learn to learn’ – this will help you to adapt and adopt the changes which are taking place at an alarming speed.
5. Talking about your personal journey, how did you manage to reinvent and stay relevant in an unconventional career throughout?
T.P. – I see life as a platform to experiment, an opportunity to be bold while we live its full potential. Personally, for me it has been about connecting the dots, learning on the job and then applying those skills-set to the next challenge or opportunity in another job landscape. Eventually through all my professional endeavours, I have only connected the dots, and it has worked out perfectly for me. In everything I do, I use my knowledge from other projects as well. Therefore in looking at life as full of experiments, I constantly reinvented myself and stayed relevant.
6. Did you find any support network – how? Did it help in shaping your career in any way?
T.P. – We live with many stereotypes and pre-established societal templates and it all comes from your inter-grinding of culture over a period of time. As women we tend to be sole warriors in many ways but we have a lot to learn from our male counterparts in that regard. So networking, sisterhood, building a strong community support system around us is absolutely critical. I did not start off with everything great but eventually some of the biggest collaborators, supporters and people who I look up to – both women and men, have guided me.
Having spent my foundation years in Kolkata, I have largely been influenced by the works of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Swami Vivekananda; their efforts to improve the status of women in society. It takes an entire community to come together to triumph over social evils and stereotypes that women have lived with far too long now. It is a long journey, and still, we do have miles to go because there still exists a clear discrepancy between the size of the male and female professional workforce in India. I think, now, is an opportunity for all of us to be the change we expect to see.
7. What makes women successful as entrepreneurs and what makes women, especially in India let go of their careers midway?
T.P.- A woman entrepreneur can be successful only when she believes in herself. Also, women should not be very harsh on themselves. That is, according to a recent study, unlike men, women do not apply for jobs with which their profiles do not match a 100%. However, believing in yourself and experimenting is the way ahead for women who wish to succeed as entrepreneurs – after all one can always learn on the job as well. It depends upon us to set examples for other women to follow and tide over their apprehensions. I would say, it is not about ‘the best talent winning’ it is more about, ‘the most persistent talent winning!’ Many talented women give up their career as many Indian women suffer from the ‘super-woman’ syndrome, where they want to do everything perfectly in trying to please everybody in the family. In the process, I feel they forget to love themselves! A wee bit of self-love and ambition has to be there – it is about how persistent you are, which makes a lot of difference. Here both, society and technology have a crucial role to play – if we want more women to step out and carve an identity for themselves, then we need to create a support system, embedded with technology access for enabling women to work from anywhere and anytime. In this context, the rise of Gig economy is the trigger which will help women become professionally more relevant, owing to the flexibility it will provide.
8. How do you think women can leverage the power of communication to succeed at either our own venture or in a shared work space?
T.P. – Communication is a very powerful and magical tool – it can change and re-define. It is a tool used by personas who initiated change; whether it is Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi, they all communicated to bring about revolutionary changes. Again, it is obvious that views will be criticized as well but you have to have the resilience to stand up for them. If you want to circulate your ideas in the market, you have to lend your voice to it. However, while utilizing communication as a ‘power’ tool you must remember that it just doesn’t end with you, it has to be powerful enough to reach your audience and convince them, therefore humility and clarity in communication is extremely important. Thus, communicating and understanding your stakeholders ideas and needs is of utmost importance as it is what adds up to make you a powerful communicator. Besides, you have to be authentic and consistent as a communicator because your actions must always be in tandem with your words. Communication is the foundational rock on which the society is built, so communicate, communicate, communicate!
9. What has given you more satisfaction, being an entrepreneur or being a professional? Also, what skills helped you to succeed in one sphere of work but did not matter in the other sphere of work?
T.P.- When you are an entrepreneur, you are an employment generator, therefore every action you take, every decision you make, has an impact on your employees, their families, in some way or the other. Thus, being an entrepreneur comes with greater responsibility. However, on the flip side, as an entrepreneur you have more flexibility to define and shape things your way, define many careers and reap the benefits of your hard work to the fullest. It is a high risk – high reward undertaking and is extremely purposeful. As an entrepreneur you have to wear multiple hats because you are a part of sales, marketing, your brand’s reputation and everything and anything else too! Personally, I have never stopped being an entrepreneur even in my professional life; I have taken up every role, every opportunity with the same spirit. We take risks, push the boundaries in being either a professional or an entrepreneur and I have always tried to guide, motivate and mentor my team with the same entrepreneurial spirit, treating each professional achievement as a personal win. To me every role begins with the positive thought of ‘ I AM POSSIBLE’ as the word ‘impossible’ does not exist for me!
10. If you had to give one advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs, what would that be?
T.P.- Be Bold and Dream Big – You do not know what possibilities lie ahead.